**Yes, I’ve intended to keep this review spoiler free, with just really minor spoilers that may not even count as spoilers.**
**All GIFS are from GIPHY**
I give this book 4/5 stars.
Well Met by Jen DeLuca was such an adorable and emotional read. The romance between the main character, Emily, and her love interest, Simon, was swoon-worthy. I’ve always been a fan of hate-to-love relationships; there’s just something so sexy and enjoyable about them.
This book is about 24-turning-25 year old Emily Parker, who has just been dumped by her ex-boyfriend, Jake. They’ve been together since college, and Emily postponed finishing her almost-done English degree in order to help her boyfriend make ends meet while he was in law school. The plan was that they were building a life together, and that once Jake was in law school, it would be Emily’s turn to finish her education. Except once Jake got to where he wanted to be career-wise, his ungrateful butt dumped Emily because to him, she wasn’t good for his fancy-schmancy lawyer image, being a bartender and all. Never-mind that the only reason she was a bartender in the first place was to support him like they’d agreed on, but you know how it is with obnoxious, selfish people.
Right around her break-up, Emily moves from Boston to Maryland to help her sister and her 14-year old niece/her sister’s daughter, Caitlin. Her sister, April, recently got inured in a car accident (nope, not her fault, it was the other driver’s) and she has a leg injury that renders her unable to get by physically without help. Not only is Emily moving to Willow Creek, Maryland, helpful for April and Caitlin, but it’s also a huge help and relief to Emily. It makes her feel needed and valuable, and serves as a few months of a good distraction from her uncertain future.
It’s the beginning of Caitlin’s summer break and Emily gets lured into volunteering for Caitlin’s school Renaissance faire, without really knowing what it is that she’s signing herself up for. Despite her reluctance, Emily signs up as a parent volunteer knowing how much it would mean to Caitlin who is very excited about taking part in it.
The main director, Simon, immediately gets on Emily’s nerves and Emily seems to get on his nerves, too. Simon seems extremely uptight and Emily doesn’t understand why, but she’s not going to let Simon make her feel small. But throughout the story, as Emily gets to know Simon better, he goes from being a stuck-up man whose face she doesn’t want to see to being someone she could be with all day. There is more to Simon than Emily assumed, and all the hatred and arrogance from him aren’t what they seem.
Like I said, this was a sexy, adorable and emotional read. Before I get into what I loved about this book, I’m going to get some negative aspects out of the way.
It always bothers me (as it should bother anyone) when women are objectified. We see it everyday through print ads and TV characters where they are sexually objectified and/or treated as, well, objects in other senses. Likewise, I also don’t like when men– or anyone, regardless of their gender– are objectified.
There were some jokes about objectifying one of the cast members, Mitch. When Emily was hesitant about participating in the faire, Stacey, another cast member who became one of Emily’s friends as the story went on, persuaded Emily to join through the sexual objectification of Mitch in a kilt. In other words, seeing Mitch in a kilt for sexual pleasure was an incentive for Emily to join the faire. Given, Mitch did made it pretty obvious that he liked the attention, but reducing anyone to a sexual object is not something that sits well with me. And this objectification of Mitch didn’t happen just once in the story– it was referred to and used as a point of humor multiple times throughout the book.
I know the author tried to make this a point of humor. I don’t think that the author intended to dehumanize or to offend through this sense of humor; such a kind of “humor” is so normalized in so much of the media around us that we’ve accepted it without really thinking about it. Even just a few years ago, I may have glossed past these elements of the story without thinking much about it– but I’ve since realized and learned. And the sooner we start realizing and calling it out, the better.
Now going on to the positives!
I really liked how the author expressed Emily’s emotional turmoil. I liked that DeLuca used Emily’s first point of view to narrate the story, and her writing really helped me as a reader understand Emily’s insecurities and pain at being used and discarded by her ex and left behind. Emily mentioned a few times that she didn’t want to be loved the way she was loved by her ex, where she was loved for what she could do for someone. Instead, she wanted to be loved for who she was.
DeLuca really showed how Emily’s feelings of validation through being needed through different aspects of her life– not just in her romantic endeavors, but also in her family relationships and platonic friendships.
I loved the way the relationships between the characters were portrayed. There was such a warm sense of community that radiated through the words; Willow Creek is a small town, and it showed the small-town stereotypes of everyone knowing each other and news of people’s private matters traveling fast. It also made me feel the comfy-warm-fuzzy feelings of a community where people genuinely care about each other, and accept newcomers as a new member of their extended family. I really resonated with Emily’s craving to belong somewhere, to a be a part of something, to be an integral part of a community. With her insecurities, she wasn’t sure if she would be as part of the community as the rest of the people who were already in Willow Creek years before her.
The overall setting was very lovely. In addition and in conjunction to the community of a close-knit small town, I loved how there were local shops including a bookstore. It kind of reminded me of the town of Hopkinton, Massachusetts, where I lived when I was younger (it’s where the Boston Marathon starts). I also imagined the physical setting to be a little different from Hopkinton at the same time. I’ve got to look up what Willow Creek actually looks like, if it’s a real town. I just yearn to live in a setting where there is a close-knit community like in this story and where there are cute little local shops where I can spend my time seeing people I know, browsing books and doing work or writing at a local cafe.
And like I mentioned, I liked how this relationship started from a hate relationship between the two main lovers, Emily and Simon, and then progressed into a loving relationship as the story progressed. I’m a sucker for hate-to-love romantic story lines. I liked the way that the author portrayed different sides of Simon: his uptight, super-strict teacher persona, his faire-pirate persona and a mesh of the two and more. She was great at showing how complex people can be through her characters and how people are multifaceted in a way that beautifully combines into who they are as a whole. I liked the way the author built the sexual tension between them, starting with Simon flirting with her when in his character of a pirate as he wooed her character as a wench.
I felt Emily’s confusion as she tried to separate reality from fiction regarding his feelings. I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan myself, but the way that Emily and Simon had a shared love for his writing and the way they bonded over it really displayed their chemistry. I also liked that they communicated well, and I liked that Simon seemed to be in touch with his “feminine” side; he never played games with Emily, and was upfront about the fact that he wanted sexual interactions to be meaningful. Truthfully, I don’t believe that this is only “feminine” as society may have taught us, but I liked that his character shattered the stereotype that men prefer casual, meaningless sex over meaningful relationships with a woman. While the author did a great job at showing their chemistry, I do wish there were more scenes and conversations written about between them to better show their relationship’s evolution.
The descriptions of the Renaissance faire itself, when it actually happened, were beautiful, too. It makes me want to look up photos and events of a Renaissance faire in the future (once this quarantine is over, of course). I wasn’t exactly sure what it was at first; I assumed that the faire was a play taking place around the late 16th century. But as the story progressed, I learned that it was an actual fair that took place over the course of a few weekends late into the summer. Maybe I’ll even consider participating in one in the future.
Emily’s growth as a person was shown well by the author. I liked how she faced her fears and took action to overcome or at least deal with them. And I also liked how she knew not to let herself be used as a doormat and focused on taking care of herself and prioritizing herself without feeling the need to give herself up to others. She’d really grown in practicing standing up for herself and going after what she wanted.
Simon’s evolution as a character struck emotional chords with me, too. While the story was told in Emily’s first person point of view, her interactions with Simon were really revealing of Simon and his insecurities. Simon, growing up in the small town of Willow Creek and staying to teach as a high school English teacher there, always felt that he was seen in the shadows of his older brother Sean, whom most people seem to be well-acquainted with in the faire. Emily hasn’t met him yet and it’s clear that he’s no longer in town, and later we find out why. Whereas Sean was always in the spotlight and loved it, Simon was in the shadows and felt less seen, less heard, less important. And this carried on to the present setting of Well Met. Emily is really perceptive as she figures out sides of Simon that others take for granted or do not see for themselves; she figures these aspects of Simon out for herself as their relationship deepens. He is also really hung up on past things of his life, which his relationship with Emily teaches him to let go of and/or move forward with in a way that is healthy for him and allows him to grow for himself.
Another thing I really liked about this story is the hope for genuine romantic love that it teaches. I can resonate with Emily’s heartbreak from the beginning of this story and feeling used, discarded, dehumanized and disrespected by someone you genuinely cared about and saw a future with. And seeing that future shatter. And I know many others do, too. But seeing how there is light at the end of the tunnel and better things to come through Emily’s story, I was reminded to keep my standards high and not settle for less than I deserve. I was taught that as I get closer to finding romantic love that is worthy of me, I will be so thankful that things of the past didn’t work out. This is a story of love, warmth, friendship, hope and growth.